Sunday, 17 October 2010

Shop Report: Bluebird v.s. Beyond Retro

Out of all the shops surrounding on King’s Road, Bluebird has a presence. It doesn’t appear to be just a shop front, there are no mediocre window displays here, in fact to the passer by it appears to be a restaurant, a cafe, a gallery, a hotel defiantly a ‘place to be’. First slightly foreboding at its sheer volume, the ‘Bluebird’ sign, presented on top of a shelter for the courtyard, is taken straight from a 1930’s style hotel, it gives a real sense of surreal perspective. With a second look, so are the globe Parisian lamps and quaint shaped evergreens that decorate the court yard, along with the fence, gives it a real private and exclusive aesthetic.

The courtyard is squared by cafes all filled with chic people and brands alike, this is a quietly confident hubbub of style. The shop is vast to say the least, upon entering the ‘wow’ factor really hits; it was as if Jemma El Fina, the main square in Marrakesh, Morocco was secretly hiding on the King’s road. Infinitely tiled floors and a bunch of bare white light bulbs, shockingly bright, like stars suspended from the ceiling. This drew much similarity to the food stalls, creating a muted, stylishly clean minimalistic version of an open market in the square.

With brands such as Acne, Meadham Kirchoff, Moshino, Peter Pilato and Marc by Marc Jacobs simply stocked on basic rails randomly around the store, the atmosphere was youthful with class its buyers are successful young women. Although the clothes are simply stored, the displays are anything but. There is a real juxtaposition of spacious clean modernism and retro homely gestures like 60’s chairs, vintage wooden glass display cabinets harbouring classic Mulberry pieces and Moshino scarves. Much like Anthropology, there is a huge variety of stock, including a Beauty Spa (added in 2007, two years after first opening). Surrounding a glass cabinet of jewellery on a wall there are vintage superman, wonder women artworks, graphic clown plates, and a giant marble scull which have a kitsch quality. Despite the shop appearing quite stark due to the white, there is a fantasy feel too, with chainmail Acne jumpers hanging from white ‘singing-ringing’ trees, and mirrors on the floors and walls.

The moment you go in it is apparent that photographs are not allowed. The atmosphere is not awkward however, the shop assistants don’t follow you as if spying, (even if the security guard does) they are simply pleasant and appear busy. It feels comfortable to drift around browsing, breathing in the scented air, and even so often awing at a display or the detail of a McQ dress.

Three images from the BlueBird blog

What seemed slightly alien however is in a spectacular all-mirrored room there are ladders and a sea of boxes with staff unpacking and talking, it seemed so strange against the clean professional layout of the shop. That must have been the aftermath of ‘an ever evolving concept store’ that is also able and willing to accommodate exhibition and performance art. This year alone it has hosted many events, among them for Rag&Bone and Basso&Brooke. What is most striking and different about this space, it really appears to be a ‘living, breathing’ shop, without becoming the Little Shop of Horrors.

Contrasting completely with BlueBird is Beyond Retro, which also has the wow factor, especially if you are a vintage lover. Located originally in Brick Lane, they have now expanded the brand to Soho, just off Argyle Street. Like Bluebird however it stands out a mile on a street at the back end of Marks and Spencer’s with its glowing anchor logo. Beyond Retro is never one to miss out on fancy dress, as mannequins sawn in half for some circus trick wearing a glittery ensemble and top hat great you. The entry to the shop is mostly stairs, a far cry from the open warehouse feel of Bluebird but this is compensated by marvellous themed displays all around as you curiously head down the stairs. The smell of vintage hits(although not too strong) and suddenly there is an overwhelming feeling of entering the Aladdins cave as racks upon racks of crazy vintage pieces reveal themselves.

This is definitely more like the Souk markets in Marrakesh than the vast square; with everything crammed in multiples of garments in sections of shoes, coats, 1950’s dresses, 1970’s dresses etc. Then there is a Technicolor rainbow of jumpers, cardigans and exclusively 50’s toile petticoats floating like clouds on the ceiling-heaven. The atmosphere is buzzing as people riffle through impressive collections of vintage, while the main stands have changed from ‘Mad Men’ themed to ‘Joining the Vintage Army’ in protest against consuming new clothes and seasonal Halloween. The shop is also festooned with stuffed animals, novelty pieces like Jukeboxs and Alice in Wonderland giant playing cards sprouting everwhere.

While BlueBird had high security Beyond Retro was definitely freer, the changing rooms aren’t manned and pictures could be taken with ease. Hidden away is a Halloween section which offers multitudes of strange handmade Halloween and theatre costumes, most exciting being old Mascot heads of dogs, cats, even Mr Blobby which on average are only £6-£10! Surprisingly the price range is reasonable for such a notorious vintage shop, nothing seems overpriced and the average is probably £12-£20 for a top or dress, subjective to its era obviously.

Beyond Retro spreads its fantasy theme wide, and even the staff are dressed accordingly in vintage, Tartan full-skirts, stockings a Noel Fielding haircut or a quiff for the boys, who either slouch looking cool at the till are hurry around adjusting the displays. The range of clothes is also staggering, almost even in boys and girls clothing, including wig stand, where customers are welcomed to try on the wigs and strut their stuff around the floor. Despite its busy environment everything remains neat and in its rightful place.

Beyond Retro is truly aptly named, taking the buyer one step further into a dressing up box and offers more unusual garments that other vintage shops may turn down, like a Dutch milk-made outfit. Which ultimately make it a unique, youthful environment without the BlueBird price tag.

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